Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book 45 of 52: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances

The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances: A Memoirby Mark Millhone(to be published in July) is yet another book in this series that I almost put down. I couldn't tell what it was about. I requested a copy from Rodale when I ordered a slew of health books to consider for review. I thought it was about being a used car salesman. Then I started reading and still couldn't tell the main subject. About a guy who buys a lot of used cars? A flailing marraige? A father/son relationship? An epic rode trip?

Turns out it's a a little bit of all three, but it takes about half of the book for them to all blend together in a book that I'm glad I didn't stop reading.

"Ebaymotors.com was like online porn you could talk about around the watercooler the next day. My kink was grandma cars. Cars only driven by little old ladies to church on Sundays. Cherry. Mint as new money. Like new. That's what I'm taking about," Millhone writes in the prologue. He likes to buy used cars. The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances: A Memoir really starts when he buys a 1994 BMW 740i and flies from New York to Dallas to pick up the car, and then drive it back with his father. In the background is a family in shambles. In a year, Millhone's second son almost died at birth; his mother died; his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer; and his first son was mauled by the family dog. The combined effects stressed his marriage beyond the breaking point, and his wife stopped eating and rarely left their their bedroom (bless this woman for letting Millhone write this book and the unflattering picture he paints of her through most of it).

The road trip with dad is a way for him to escape, and also ends up helping father and son connect like they never had, discussing Millhone's parents' unhealthy relationship, and his fears that his had wound up the same way. In between stops along highways, Millhone tells the story of his childhood and parents, meeting and marrying his wife, and how it all fell apart. It's only in the second half of the book that the story really gets rolling, so hang with it.

The falling apart of the marriage storyline stuck out to me. I am, as you might know, in a new relationship. We are that couple who always holds hands, kisses in public, and makes teenagers gag with the goopy eyes we throw at each other. I can't help myself. Neither can he, and it's wonderful.

I never imagined my parents this way. By the time I could start really remembering anything, they were already be on a downward track that ended when they divorced my freshman year of college. Well, it's not completely over. My brother is getting married on June 6, and an undertone to the whole thing has been dancing around my parents and their lingering frustration with each other. Working on seating arrangements required deep breaths and alcohol.

But on my desk is a picture of my parents at their rehearsal dinner. I don't know where I got this picture. I've had it for a long time, and it's followed me from apartment to apartment and finally my house. I think it's on my desk because I tried to scan it, but the scanner I borrowed didn't work, and it's stayed propped up between a glass cow and a stack of business cards. My mom is wearing white pants and white polo. My dad's in jeans and a wonderful 1970s floral shirt. My mom is looking at the camera, and my dad is looking at her. This is a couple in love. This is a couple who is about to be married and live the life of their dreams, start a family, buy a house, and do everything that they are supposed to do.

And yet I'm dealing with the divorced parents dance for Jim's wedding and ready for the encore that'll take place at my sister's wedding in November.

My dad told me on our own long drive that they promised to never take each other for granted, which is what happened -- among other things I'm sure. I think about that a lot when I look at my boyfriend. I worry that we'll take each other for granted, too.

I've never been able to see or ask my parents how they went from that rehearsal dinner picture to the squabbles of last week. The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances: A Memoir shines the light on one such relationship (though it doesn't necessarily end poorly). It's not my parents story, but it's a reminder that relationships don't take care of themselves. They have to be tended to and grown -- important to remember as I embark on this new journey.

On a lighter note: tomorrow I'll be at Book Expo America, a huge publishing conference where I'll vie for the hot tote bag of the day, free copies of books, business cards and probably meet up with my publisher.

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